Trying to figure out where the Trump administration stands when it comes to cannabis is so difficult that Donald Trump himself may not know. Marijuana legalization wasn't a big issue during the 2016 campaign, but Trump promised to leave the issue "up to the states," a fairly typical position. Then he appointed Jeff Sessions, a noted drug war crusader, to be his attorney general. At the beginning of this year, Sessions announced a policy change that would free federal prosecutors to go after marijuana growers and sellers—even in places where weed is legal under state law, seemingly signaling an anti-cannabis approach.
But Sessions's reefer madness is an outlier even in his own party. Many Republicans, especially young ones, support weed legalization, and cannabis-friendly legislation has been surprisingly successful in this GOP-dominated Congress. In 2017, a rider attached to a spending bill banned the Department of Justice from using funds to go after medical marijuana operations that are legal under state law, and more recently a bill to finally legalize hemp has been backed by Republicans including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Trump himself signaled vaguely in June that he "probably will end up supporting" a bipartisan Senate bill that would stop the federal government from interfering with states that have decided to legalize weed.
All that makes it even harder to decipher a Wednesday report from BuzzFeed News that the administration "has instructed 14 federal agencies and the Drug Enforcement Administration this month to submit 'data demonstrating the most significant negative trends' about marijuana and the 'threats' it poses to the country." That's part of the work of the "Marijuana Policy Coordination Committee," a previously unknown body that has apparently been charged with pushing an anti-marijuana line.
Anti-pot animus is apparently pretty common among the people putting this committee together. According to a summary of a meeting between the White House and nine federal departments obtained by BuzzFeed, “Staff believe that if the administration is to turn the tide on increasing marijuana use there is an urgent need to message the facts about the negative impacts of marijuana use, production, and trafficking on national health, safety, and security."
It's unclear what the committee is actually doing—the Trump administration refused to tell BuzzFeed anything about it on the record, though it didn't deny the committee's existence—but it seems strange to launch a project that's hostile to marijuana at a time when legalization is both popular in polls and winning at the ballot box.
Legalization is not without its problems. Experts are concerned that increased access to marijuana will lead to more people being addicted, and advocates are debating how to help people and communities harmed by the war on drugs as the legal weed industry expands. But the committee's apparent focus on demonizing weed risks missing problems caused by criminalization, like the bizarre gray legal area many cannabis businesses find themselves in.
Of course, this administration isn't the first to have a crappy prohibitionist stance toward weed. What makes the Marijuana Policy Coordination Committee a uniquely Trumpian government body is that it was launched in secret for reasons the administration won't explain and seems to contradict the president's own not-unfriendly public messaging about marijuana. How does this committee square with Trump's past statements? Does it represent a change in policy? Does Trump even know about it? Those would be routine questions for a normal administration to answer, but Trump has a way of turning the straightforward into the inscrutable.
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.